October 21, 2014

Learn By Example

Looking forward to Charlottesville’s Tom Tom Founders Festival by looking back at Brooklyn Beta.

I’m not a conference junkie, but I make sure to hit one, maybe two, a year. Brooklyn Beta has been my choice of conferences the last two years. Fictive Kin runs the conference and does a tremendous job. It is the best conference I’ve attended.

Last year I volunteered my time for Charlottesville’s Tom Tom Founders festival by contributing to the programming (securing speakers, not writing code). Tom Tom and Brooklyn Beta are totally different events, but there is one big overarching similarity. Brooklyn Beta celebrates making/working on something that you love. That’s why many people become entrepreneurs. Tom Tom’s innovation track focuses on founders, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Two weeks ago, Tom Tom launched Founding Cville, a program that recognizes founders from our community.

Brooklyn Beta was such a good conference because:

  1. It was extremely well run. I mentioned that already, I know. Hats off to Chris and Cameron and the entire team behind it.
  2. It was not too expensive. The price was $299.
  3. It had an atmosphere of intrigue and surprise. There is very little promotion leading up to the event. The website is always very simple. You also have no idea who is speaking until they take the stage.
  4. It celebrated Brooklyn through its vendors and sponsors.
  5. We, the attendees, were always the focus. Instead of head shots and bios of the speakers, the website displayed all of the attendees’ Twitter bios. The conference provided long breaks for us to socialize and meet new people. We had two hours for lunch, an hour in the late afternoon for beer, whiskey, and rainbow sprinkles, and the first talk didn’t even start until 11 giving us plenty of time to walk around, drink some coffee, and see who was there.

I think the innovation portion of Tom Tom can take a few cues from Brooklyn Beta. Obviously celebrating local has always been in the forefront. The fall block party last month was a great example. That could spill over to the innovation track with a local food truck serving lunch and a local beer sponsor providing afternoon beverages. Give the attendees an atmosphere to engage with one another instead of making it all about the speakers and the topics.

Even though Charlottesville is a great place to visit, the fact remains that it will always be much more difficult to get here than Brooklyn or Austin or Portland. Thus it’s going to be harder to pull in people from outside our region to attend. So let’s focus on getting a few out-of-towers as the speakers to entertain and enlighten the local (and regional) design and tech community here as attendees. The best chance to put fannies in seats is by targeting local design and tech professionals In Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Richmond, Culpeper, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and DC.

Finally I think the innovation track should provide talks that are focused on stories of creating, building, and founding something that someone was driven to do. The brand name doesn’t matter. What matters is their story. Find the best stories to inspire the crowd, mix in Mudhouse coffee, The Bavarian Chef for lunch, background music courtesy of WNRN, Wild Wolf on tap, and that crowd will keep coming back to celebrate entrepreneurship in Charlottesville on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.


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